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Impact Institute students have signing day with employers

May 30th, 2019

By Steve Garbacz | KPC Media - Albion New Era

Twenty-nine students from northeast Indiana's Impact Institute participating in a signing day ceremony, inking paperwork recognizing the new teams they're joining as they step into employment after graduation.

Graduates from multiple Impact vocational programs took part in the new event, which aims to recognize students for completing their training but also to draw more attention to career and technical programs as a viable alternative to college.

Impact director Jim Walmsley said the workforce is going through a shift right now as many available jobs with good wages are now available without four-year college degrees.

"We're in a time where we're working to swing the pendulum back in a different direction," Walmsley said. "That idea a four-year bachelor degree by itself does not equal success, and moving that pendulum back that all work is honorable and rewarding."

Walmsley cited studies that suggest America's workforce needs approximately a 1-2-7 mix of workers — for every 10 jobs available, one needs an advanced degree, two needs a four-year bachelor degree and the other seven can be filled by people with skills-based post-secondary training.

About 60-70 percent of high school students end on going to a college of some type and that's led to many graduates entering the workforce underemployed and carrying heavy debt loads.

"Only 30% of our students who go through need that college education," Walmsley said.

In the current climate, employers are short of workers of all types and could use many more people with technical or skills-based educations right now.

"There's a shortage of workers, a shortage of qualified workers," Walmsley said. "We'll need to fill roughly 1 million jobs (in Indiana) between now and 2025 due to growth and due to retirements."

Bill Konyha, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana, shared an anecdote about his youth, when he was working a summer doing carpentry, which was his father's field of employment.

His dad stopped in at the worksite and the foreman told him that they'd keep an eye and Konyha and help him out. But his dad instead told them not to do that, that his intention was to make the job miserable to encourage Konyha to get an education instead.

That worked and Konyha ended up going to college to become an engineer, a job that he despised after only one year in the field before switching career tracks.

Vocational work shouldn't be shunned, Konyha said. While it's not for everyone, youngsters who are interested in those fields and who have the right tools for it should be encouraged to pursue it, not driven away.

"If you love your work, it's not work," he said. "This is about our students pursuing what their gifts, talent and skills are. ... Twenty-first-century skills are just as important as a college education."

A community thrives when its employers thrive and employers don't thrive without the right workforce. Right now, that's the biggest challenge facing a lot of firms and, if business can't find the workers its needs, they're go somewhere they can.

Years ago the top concerns were things like building space, utilities and operating costs. That's shifted, Konyha said.

"When you ask an employer what his top three most important items are today, it's 'Where am I going to get my workforce?' 'Where am I going to get my workforce?' and 'Where am I going to get my workforce?'" Konyha said.

After those brief introductory remarks, students were called to the front with their Impact instructors and representatives from the companies they're being hired onto for a signing ceremony similar to what college-bound athletes do when they commit to a school.

In total, 29 students from nine area school districts were moving on to careers, including two who were planning to launch their own business straight out of high school.

Chris Brown, director of training for the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union No. 166 in Fort Wayne, took part in two signings for students who were moving on to local mechanical firms.

Brown said the apprenticeship programs being provided by the union to those students equated to an approximately $50,000-$70,000 scholarship paid for by the union members, with students on the hook for just $1,600 out of pocket for books.

By the time they're 23 years old and complete the program, they'll be in jobs ranging from $50,000-$90,000 depending on their job track with no debt. Rapid advancement is also possible, with some people able to get promoted to foreman in three or four years, where previously they would have to advance to journeyman level before getting that opportunity.

The union offered 27 apprenticeship spots and had 430 people apply. Students who have some of that career training already under their belt in high school have a major advantage, he said.

"The students that went to a local training center like Impact, that separates them from the pack," Brown said. "It makes a huge difference."

The opportunities are abundant for students with the right work ethic and drive to succeed. Construction is booming, so much so that Brown said the union is "completely out of manpower" and in the process of adding new workers. The union underwent a multi-million upgrade to its training center, boosting its capacity for new apprentices from about 70 10 years ago to now preparing up to 170 at a time.

Walmsley said the signing day events have been promoted regionally at career training programs and that Impact was happy to take part. Getting more students interested in vocational careers is important and Impact helps them get a leg-up when entering the workforce.

"It's always interesting to see the college graduates that aren't doing anything close to what they prepared for," he said. "We're preparing these kids for the jobs that are really out there and available."

Area students recognized at the signing day Tuesday included:

Central Noble High School: Nico Urso, automotive technology, Leatherman's Automotive; Alyssa Adams, culinary arts, Jellystone Park; Tyler Eggl, construction trades, Bella Innovative Modern Cabinetry; Bailey Leitch, marine service technology, Shrine Lake Marine; Nathan McDonald, welding, Plumber and Steamfitters Local 166/Shambaugh & Sons.

East Noble High School: Adam Babyak, automotive technology, Shepherd's GM Center; Hannah Bielski, cosmetology, Family Hairloom.

Westview High School: Bradyn Gates, auto body collision repair, Leatherman's Auto Body.

Lakeland High School: Pierce Edsall, welding, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 166/Wein & Shearer Mechanical; Gage Naylor, automotive technology, Frohriep Auto Body; Lewis Mullins, cosmetology, SmartStyle.

Prairie Heights High School: Matt McClanahan, auto body collision repair, Angola Collision.

Garrett High School: Timothy Crupe, culinary arts, Miller's Merry Manor; Karter Reinoehl, welding, United Drilling.

DeKalb High School: Austin Curran, auto body collision repair, Kitchen's Auto Body; Kaleb DiGregory, auto body collision repair, Kitchen's Auto Body; Carson Fraser, auto body collision repair, Peter's Auto Body; Dan Brown, auto body collision repair, Praxis Detailing; Justin Husted, precision machining, Auburn Gear; Carter Bungard, welding, Triton Manufacturing; Colten Close, welding, Complete Maintenance Solutions; Colton Carper, welding, Bralin Laser Corporation; Dustin Slagel, welding, Lockwood Welding.

Angola High School: Alex Poorman, precision machining, opening own business; Luke Hottell, precision machining, Eva-lution.

Home school: Ethan Love, marine service technology, Dry Dock Marine Center.

Churubusco High School: Wyatt Gillenwater, cosmetology, opening own business; Nate Konger, welding, Wirco.